46 Children’s Legal Rights Journal [Vol. 36: 1 2016]
landscape. Furthermore, while the United States has a rich and diverse society, we experience
overwhelmingly disproportionate numbers of minority youth in the justice system.
negatively affects not only the youth who offend and those individuals touched by crime, but also
the youths’ communities.
7 While this Article does address whether minority youth have different
experiences of the juvenile justice system and the factors that might cause disparate impact or bias,
the aim is to review the issue, not propose a one-size-fits-all solution.
A. A Snapshot: Disproportionality Statistics
In the United States, research indicates that extreme racial and ethnic disparities continue
to exist across the various state-level juvenile justice systems8 and that African American males
are especially overrepresented in these systems.
9 While African American youth represent
seventeen percent of the American youth population, they make up forty-six percent of juvenile
arrests, thirty percent of referrals to juvenile court, and forty-one percent of waivers to adult
10 African American males are also six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males
and 2. 5 times more likely than Hispanic males.
11 Additionally, African American and Hispanic
males make up nearly two-thirds of the young prison population, with non-Hispanic black males
making up the largest single demographic.
Furthermore, it is estimated that one in three (thirty-three percent) of African American
males will serve time in prison at some point in his life—compared to a seventeen percent chance
6Howard Snyder, OJJDP Bulletin: Juvenile Arrests 2004, U.S. DEP’T OF JUST. 9 (Dec. 2006),
https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/214563.pdf (providing data on juvenile arrests and racial disproportionality in
the juvenile justice system).
7See, e.g., Alexander supra note 1, at 3 (discussing the current climate of incarceration and crime as one that “plagues”
African American communities, not only the individuals affected); Michael J. Bamshad and Steve E. Olson, Does
Race Exist?, SCI. AM.N 78, 83 (2003),
http://www.brandeis.edu/provost/diversity/Events/diversitypdfs/Does_Race_Exist.pdf (defining race as a
categorization of humans into populations based on genetic or heritable traits such as skin color, hair texture, and
facial features); ANTHONY D. SMITH, THE ETHNIC ORIGINS OF NATIONS 7 (1987) (explaining that “ethnicity” refers to
a group of people that share a commonality based on heritage that is real or assumed).
8What is the JJDPA?, ACT
4 JUV. JUST.(Apr. 15, 2015), http://www.act4jj.org/what-jjdpa (providing an overview of
the JJDPA and four core requirements / protections); Christopher Hartney and Linh Vuong, Created Equal, Race and
Ethnic Disparities in the US Criminal Justice System, NAT’L COUNCIL ON CRIME AND DELIQ.
5 (MARCH 2009)
http://www.nccdglobal.org/sites/default/files/publication_pdf/created-equal.pdf (explaining that differential
representation of racial and ethnic groups exists at every level of the juvenile justice system and that there is a growing
concern about this issue).
9MALCOM GLADWELL, BLINK 275 (2007).
10Sarah Brown, Locking Up Racial Bias, STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE (Oct. 22, 2013),
2013.aspx (explaining that minorities are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system and providing
numbers on African American youth).
11E. Ann Carson, Bulletin: Prisoners in 2013, U.S. DEP’T OF JUST. (Sept. 2014),
http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/ascii/p13.txt (explaining also that in 2013, almost three percent of black males were
imprisoned compared to 0.5 percent of white males); Marc Mauer & Ryan S. King, Uneven Justice: State Rates of
Incarceration By Race and Ethnicity, THE SENTENCING PROJECT
12Young Adults in Jail or Prison: Indicators on Children and Youth, CHILD TRENDS DATA BANK 4 (Apr., 2012),
http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/89_Young_Adults_In_Prison.pdf (providing statistical
breakdowns of youth in prison by gender and race).